Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Celebration Of Learning

Summer is a time for teachers to reflect on the year behind and plan for the year ahead.  One of the things that I like to do each year is host a "Celebration of Learning" for my students.  I do this at the end of the year, but I need to think about what I plan to include much earlier.

The Celebration of Learning is an evening where we have all kinds of things on display for students, parents, and families to see.

In the picture to the side, I have a class picture from the beginning of the year.  I also have a poem framed with mini-self portraits of students in our class.  The half sheet is explaining what is displayed and what things students should take home.  This is what students see when they enter the multi-purpose room.

On the same table, I have the students' brag tags from the year.  Each student has collected and earned many different tags for various accomplishments.

I also have tons of pictures on display.  Some of them are "just for fun" shots of silly things.  Many of them show activities or projects we worked on throughout the year.  Beside the pictures, I displayed the standard that was covered by the activity people can see in the pictures.  I thought this would show that even though it looks like we are just having some fun, we are actually learning!

The picture to the left shows a timeline of our day.  We picked out several pictures that represent what we do during the day.  The students wrote explanations on index cards.  Then we put them in order.  This goes with a social studies standard for using timelines.  Obviously, the timeline is much longer than what you can see in the picture.

Also on display were class books that we had written throughout the year as well as individual published pieces.  The students were so proud of these accomplishments!

Learning Calendar
Our learning calendar was rolled out around the edges of the multi-purpose room.  The learning calendar is a huge roll of paper where we record the days' events and what we learned each day.  We also collect a little data on the weather.

There were so many other things on the tables too.  There were certificates for being authors, certificates for people who had read 100 books during the year, poetry books, math museum displays, and posters explaining what we learned in each subject this year.

I wish I could capture the magic of the whole room in one picture, but I just couldn't.  It's pretty overwhelming to see it all in one place.

Photos of Fluency Idol Winners
Photos and Standards
Brag Tags
Sunrise and Sunset Calendar

Published Books by Students

Of course, one of the things the students were so excited about was the end of the year gift.  I gave each student a sand bucket filled with fun things to do (bubbles, play-doh, a pencil, notebook for writing, and a book).  There was also information about our local library's summer reading program.  I put these at the back of the room and on the stage so that students would get them before they left.

Because I know I am going to do this each year, I save several items throughout the year.  That doesn't mean that parents do not get to see student work during the year.  We still have plenty of samples going home.

This end of the year celebration is such a nice way to end the year.  The students are so proud of all they have done.  Parents are very appreciative of the displays and the chance to see this.  Many times there are grandmas and grandpas or aunts and uncles attending too.

How do you share your students' accomplishments with families?  Do you do any end of the year activities for your class or school that you can share?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Writing Mini-Lessons Continued

Writing is such a rich subject to teach.  There are layers upon layers of content, skills, and strategies.  Besides teaching students about the 6 Traits and how they help us identify a strong piece of writing, I am also teaching students about the writing process.  This is woven through the lessons in a cyclical fashion because that is truly what the writing process is- a cycle.

I don't really think it is of paramount importance that young writers can NAME the writing process.  I do want them to understand that writer's move back and forth and in and out of the process though.  I like to show the students using my own writings.  I let them see  how I brainstorm and add to my idea lists.  I choose a topic and start on a piece.  I may or may not finish that piece right away.  I usually have several pieces of writing going at the same time.  One day I revise an old piece.  The next day I might start a new piece.  That's the great thing about writing!  It's not a linear process, so I can move about depending on my thoughts, ideas, and moods.  I use the language of brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing as I model each of these. (I write often with my students.)

Just as the writing process is integrated into our mini-lessons, I also teach students about writing genres.  When we begin the year, we focus mainly on personal narratives.  I like to start the year with this genre because all students have a story to tell.  Every student can be successful writing a personal narrative. We start by doing lots of oral sharing.  If a student can't tell the story, they certainly can't write it down. We learn about small moments and how to narrow our topic.  Again, I model, model, model this!

We focus on writing personal narratives for the first month or two.  Then we move on to informational writing.  My second graders love to read non-fiction books, especially about animals.  Our reading leads us into writing about animals.  One project we do each year is a collaborative report on animals.  I will share that in another post though.  We also write reports on famous Americans.

We also work on opinion writing during the year.  Though we focus on one genre for a portion of the year, that doesn't mean that students can only write in those genres while we are learning about them.  I strongly believe in choice during writer's workshop, so students are often writing many different  pieces.  In addition to personal narratives, informational, and opinion writing, we also focus on poetry.  Although it's not the focus of second grade writing in the Common Core, I think it is valuable to teach students about poetry.

When I stop and think about all of the things that we teach writers to do, it's a bit mind boggling!  It's such a complex process, yet it's so exciting to teach.  I continue to learn more and more about teaching writing, but there are a few things that have become foundational in my writer's workshop.  Always model everything!  Use a variety of models throughout the process.  Provide many experiences with mentor texts.  Let the students see you write and share your mistakes and triumphs.  Use lots of student writing , both past and present.  It's so powerful when you use a child's writing to point out something great a writer does.  And most importantly, LET THEM SHARE!!

Thanks for letting me share with you!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Procedural Tips for Writer's Workshop

So, I have already shared how I get started with the 6 Traits in writing.  I follow the same basic procedure for introducing each trait. (See yesterday's post for more info.)  While we are working on each trait for 2-3 weeks, I am also integrating various mini-lessons.

One type of mini-lesson that I provide more frequently in the beginning is procedural.  This takes time to decide how you want things to go in your classroom.  Are your students going to use folders, writing notebooks, or journals to store their writings?  Are they allowed to use pens or markers during this time?  What do they do when they finish a piece of writing?  Are they allowed to sit anywhere in the room or do they stay at their desks?  All of these (and more) are questions that the teacher needs to determine ahead of time.  You have to decide what works for you and your students.

Once you decide on these type of things you need to explain and model them explicitly for your students.  I have learned that although it takes some extra time in the beginning, it is very worth it to set up clear expectations and follow them consistently. Model, model, model!!   Nothing can destroy your precious learning time faster than procedural or behavioral distractions.

Here are a few procedural tips that might help:

1)  Have a central location for paper and offer a variety of types.  I usually have 3-4 trays with various types of paper (lined, unlined, with borders or clip art…)  Students do not need to ask for paper.  They may get it themselves but only one sheet at a time.  (I have encountered a few hoarders).

2)  Have a bin of already sharpened pencils.  I really do not like the distraction of a pencil sharpener of any kind!  If a student needs another pencil, they just take one from the sharp bin and leave the unsharp one in another bin.

3)  Have a place where you meet students that is *sacred*.  At my kidney shaped table, I meet with students for conferencing.  When I am at the table, other students may not approach me or ask a question unless they are bleeding or on fire.  Before implementing this rule, it is a good idea to have a mini-lesson on problem solving.  Make an anchor chart about different types of problems and how they can be solved.  This will help eliminate the need for interruptions.

4)  Have various spelling resources available.  I have some dictionaries available to help with spelling.  I also have various phonics charts and resources posted in the room.  We have a class book of "Hunks and Chunks" to help with spelling.  Each student has a phonics chart in his or her TIGERS binder.  Be sure to model how to use each of these resources.  Also, when you notice a student using these resources, be sure to point that out during your sharing time.  Make a big deal of problem solving and the students will follow that lead.

5)  Have an area or procedure for students to gain writing ideas.  There are always a few students who have difficulty getting started.  They say they can't think of an idea.  One thing you can do to help with that is have a place where you provide topics or prompts that students may use.  Also, train the students that talking to others is a great place to get ideas.  (You have to train the students in "3 inch voices")  If they are stuck, they should ask the people at their table to share what they are working on.

6)  Tighten your transitions.  I am very protective of instructional time, so I strive to make transitions quick and smooth.  Typically, we have mini-lessons at the beginning of writer's workshop and on our carpet whole group meeting area.  Once I am finished with the mini-lessons, I want students to get started writing.  I don't send them all at once.  First, if I know of a student or students that I want to conference with, I tell them to go to the table and begin with a certain task.  I might say, "Be ready to share the piece you are working on and share your bold beginning." That way they are ready when I get there.  Then I release the other students back to their desk a few at a time.  I usually have my students sitting in groups of 6.  I refer to them as "teams."  I will send one team at a time to get started. This prevents a backlog at the paper station or a frenzy of movement that tends to distract individuals.  Also, you can stagger students getting started by asking about writing goals for the day.  But that will need to be a post for another day…    
(I get so excited about sharing that I get a little long winded!)

It seems as I write this post, I think of more and more to share.  I know that I have learned so much over the years by people sharing these ideas with me.  I am still getting great ideas from others and trying them out!  It is so exciting to me!

If you have a great tip to share, please let me know!  I love learning new stuff!!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

My "How to" with the 6 Traits

Once we have completed our first baseline and introductory piece of writing, I get started right away with the traits.  First I introduce "Ideas" by explaining that writers need to think about what they want to say or what they want their readers to know.  I share my own idea list from my writer's notebook.  We do a great amount of verbal sharing, and students begin creating idea lists to keep in their writing folders.

We also read lots of books and talk about how we think the writers came up with the idea to write that book.  It's important to share lots of mentor texts and teach the students how to think like a writer.  We talk about the books we read in the context of writing.  I love when there is information included on the back of a book or inside cover that tells more about the author.  Often times it explains where the idea came from for the book.  I want my students to understand that writers get ideas from their own life and experiences.

I also show my students the rubric that we use for "ideas." There are 4 indicators on the rubric:
* I have one clear main idea.
* I have great details to explain my idea.
* My writing stays on topic.
* My writing is focused and not too broad.
I do mini-lessons on each of these indicators.  I use samples of writing from past students, samples from current students (only show the positive), and mentor texts.  I think it is so important for students to have lots of experiences with anchor pieces and models.

After we have learned about each of the indicators on the "idea" rubric, I put students into small groups and give them 3 or 4 samples of writing.  These samples provide a range on the continuum from strong to weak.  I don't tell the students the scores or which pieces are strong or weak.  I have the groups look at each piece, discuss it using the rubric as a guide, and put the pieces in order from weakest to strongest.  We don't actually score each piece, we just want to put them in order.  Then we talk about it as a whole class.  Often times the students have different ideas about which is the strongest piece.  This is fine.  I think it's most important that we have the conversation about what we think.  I want the students to tell why they think a certain way.  When they have to explain their reasoning it gives them an opportunity to really reflect and sometimes revise their thinking.  This is the good part because it helps the students define what they think is "strong" writing.  (I don't like to use the words "good" or "best" when referring to writing.  I prefer "stronger" and "weaker.")

After working with a team to put pieces in order, we then work in pairs to score a different piece.  I give each pair of students the same writing sample. They have to discuss it with their partner and write a final score on the sample.  Then we again, talk as a whole class about what we think.  The more practice the students receive scoring other pieces and discussing ideas, the more comfortable and capable they become in scoring their own writing.

While we are working on learning about "ideas" through mini-lessons and models, the students are also working on writing.  During my writer's workshop time, I usually start with a mini-lesson for the first 10 minutes or so. This is where I am sharing mentor texts and modeling.  Next I give students time to write (and sometimes draw).  This usually lasts about 30-40 minutes.  We always end with sharing time.  I try to vary this as well.  We share with partners, I call on random students, or we do some whole class sharing.  It depends on how much time we have and if I have noticed certain students that I really want to share.  The important thing is that you never skip the sharing.  If the students don't have the chance to share, they will stop writing.  They need to have an authentic audience and purpose for writing.

All of this practice with sample pieces really helps students learn to identify what makes a piece of writing strong or weak.  They learn what to look for and what to do in their own writing to make it better.  By this time, they have had several days of writing and mini-lessons on the featured trait.  The final step is for students to complete one piece of writing and score it for "ideas."

At the beginning of the year, the students usually score themselves very high.  I guess it's good that they are so confident. LOL!  But soon I begin to see a shift in their self scoring that shows me they understand the traits and can identify their own strengths and weaknesses.  This is important because when I am conferencing I can usually start by looking at how they have self scored.

Speaking of conferencing, this is what I do while the students are working on writing.  I sometimes conference with students one on one.  Other times, I have a group of 3 students.  I don't like to have more than 3 at the table at once because I need to be able to attend to each one and provide guidance and feedback.  The more students I have at the table, the less effective it becomes.

Whenever I introduce a new trait, we usually work on that trait for a couple of weeks.  During that time we are doing the mini-lessons that I have mentioned above.  (I may also have mini-lessons on procedural  things woven in there.)  I work with individuals and small groups during the writing time.  This gives me a chance to listen to the students read their writing, ask questions to help them reflect, and provide scaffolds or modeling where needed.  Writer's workshop is naturally differentiated because the students will work at the level they are capable.  My job is to  meet them where they are and nudge them forward.

Once students begin turning in final drafts, I start pulling them to the table in groups of 3.  Each student reads his or her writing to the group.  We then start by looking at how the student self scored on the rubric. (I have them attach the rubric to the draft before they turn it in.)  We discuss whether or not we agree or disagree and why.  The listening students can ask questions of the writer.  When other students ask questions, it helps the writer reflect and see areas that may need revision.  That's another reason it's so powerful to have students share.  The writer may do some revision right then and there at the table or they may decide to take the piece back and rework it at their table.  When the writer is satisfied that his or her piece of writing is "finished", we work in groups of 3 to share and score.  Many times that occurs the first time the student is at the table.  If not, I will pull them back to the table at another time and we'll repeat the above process.

I want the writer to be satisfied and proud of the writing they have completed.  I always focus on positive parts and praise the student for what is strong in the writing.  If a writer's final scores are less than 4's, I ask them if they know what to do to move it to the next level.  If they can tell me, that's great!  If they are clueless, I give them some specific suggestions or show them some models to help clarify.  When conferencing, I keep in mind that I want the student to be able to use the skills and strategies independently.  I want to teach for transfer.  Before a student leaves the conferencing table, I want to be sure they are confident in what they have done as well as know where they are going as a writer.  In other words, they know the next steps.  I will usually ask them, "So what are you going to do now?"
The answer they give tells me a great deal about their thinking.  If a student says, "I am going to go back and work on my bold beginning"  or "I am going to add some sparkly words" I know they are thinking as a writer.  If they say, "I am going to start on a new piece.  I have a great idea that I need to share," I know they are thinking as a writer.  If they look at me and say,"I'm done.  Can I do something else?" we have some work to do!

Basically, I follow the procedure I just explained for each of the 6 traits.   We usually work on each trait from 2-3 weeks.  When it comes to scoring, the rubric builds as we learn the traits.  At first, I only score for ideas.  Then I score for ideas and organization.  Then I score for ideas, organization, and voice…
This makes it less overwhelming to students.  They have the opportunity to build on what they know.  We are usually using all of the traits by Januaryish.

I feel like this post was long and a bit of a ramble.  (Maybe I should score myself and revise it).  Hopefully,  it's not too confusing.  I still have lots to share on the topic of writing!  Overall, I really like the way my Writer's Workshop time is structured.  I am still learning and improving my teaching practices, but I feel like at least there's a solid foundation.

How do you structure your writing time?  Do you use the 6 Traits?  Can you share any successes or challenges?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Introducing the 6 Traits of Writing

I absolutely love teaching with the 6 Traits.  It is a framework that works from kindergarten to high school.  Learning to teach with the traits has also helped me become a better writer.  I can identify what's strong or weak in my own writing and work to improve it.  This is my hope for my students.

So how do you get started with the traits?  On the first day of school, I tell my students that I am going to share a piece of writing about me.  It's kind of an introduction or getting to know you piece.  (I actually have 3 pieces that I share on the smart board.)

The first piece that I show and read to the class is very simple and full of convention errors.  It is really short and pretty boring.  The students listen and usually don't say much about this piece.  When I finish reading it I tell them that I actually have another piece that I should read.  (This one is a little better than the first.  I have a few more details and a few less convention errors.)  After reading this one, they usually start saying things like, "That one is a lot better.  You told us more."

Then I read one more piece which is my best effort.  I start with a bold beginning and give lots of great details.  I have spectacular words that help the students visualize and connect.  I use everything I know about the traits to really captivate my audience.  This final piece is polished and pleasing.  When I read this piece, the students are visibly moved.  I can see it on their faces while I am reading it.

After reading this one, I ask them which piece of writing they liked best and why.  They start noticing and naming the different beginning, the descriptive details, the consistent use of conventions, the transition words…

They don't know it yet but they are naming many of the features of the 6 traits.  At the end of our comparison and discussion, I explain that we are going to learn something called "The 6 Traits of Writing."  I explain that the traits help us identify what makes a piece of writing "great."  I tell them that they were already able to notice many things that makes one piece of writing better than another.  In the writings that I shared, the overall messages were pretty much the same.  They received the same information about me in each piece, but HOW I said it was different.

I briefly name the traits and explain that we will learn them one at a time.  In a few months they will know and be able to use all of these tools.  I then invite them to write an introductory letter to me.  I tell them that this is a way they can share information with me much as I did in my piece.  I also tell them to think about the things they noticed in my best writing and try to do the same.  This first piece of writing not only lets me get to know my students' interests and background, it also serves as a baseline writing piece.  I keep this first piece of writing so that we can compare future writings to it.  It's so exciting to be able to see growth as the year progresses.

Do you use The 6 Traits of Writing in your classroom or school?  How do you get started?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Writer's Workshop

I have a love/hate dislike relationship with Writer's Workshop.  I love getting students excited about writing and watching them grow and develop throughout the year.  I dislike that I never seem to have enough time to "get it all in."  Writing is such a complex task that there just seems to be SO much I want my students to know and use.  I get frustrated that I can't do it all.

I wanted to share a couple of tips that I have learned to use during Writer's Workshop.  One is "the star on the board".  Sometimes I want students to have a silent, uninterrupted time to write.  When I draw a star on the board, the students know that it is a signal that everyone in the room will be writing and there is NO talking.  This includes me and any paraprofessionals or student teachers in the room.  Everybody writes.  I like to do this from time to time because it gives the students a chance to think and write.  I know that writers need to talk too, but every once in awhile it's good to have some silence.

Also, I get to do some writing.  I love to write!  I keep a writer's notebook in my classroom as well as a writing folder with works in progress.  I also have some "published" pieces that the kids can see.  I think it is important that the students see me as a writer too.  I can share my thoughts and struggles.  I model the process as well as the product.

We don't put the star on the board everyday.  I do this maybe once every couple of weeks.  It may last for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the engagement that I see.  I don't want to overuse this because I think it would lose it's effectiveness.  As it is now, the kids actually love to see the star on the board.

Another little strategy that I use is "the pencil on the board."  Just like the star, I draw a pencil on the board to signal drawing time. This is a strategy that my student teacher and I came up with last year.  When the pencil is on the board, students are allowed to draw.

I know that drawing is a really important part of the writing process too.  I want my students to know the importance of illustrations in their writing.  The problem I was noticing is that some students would draw the whole time.  They spent so much time on the illustrations that they never quite got to the writing part.  I want to give them the time to draw but also hold them accountable for writing. 

Now I tell the students that we focus on the writing part unless the pencil is on the board.  Sometimes I put the pencil up at the beginning of writing time.  Sometimes I put it up at the end.  Most days we have some time devoted to drawing during our Writer's Workshop time.  I always tell the students that they may draw during that time but they don't have to.  I don't want them to think that they have to stop writing and just focus on drawing.  I want to give them the opportunity.

I have so much more to talk about when it comes to writing.  I would love to hear your ideas and tips too!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Alternative Seating

We have all experienced students who seem to never sit down or have their booties in the air instead of their chairs.  I totally understand their need for movement.  I remember as a child being in church with my family.  I had 2 older sisters who were able to sit or stand like a statue throughout the whole service.  I struggled to stay still.  My mother was constantly telling me to turn around or sit down or sit still.  YUCK!

As an adult, I have attended countless meetings or presentations where I was expected to sit for an extended period of time.  I purposefully look for a seat in the back of a room because I know I am going to need to move.  I just can't sit down for that long.  My body physically hurts!

These experiences have made me empathetic to our wiggly friends in school.  I understand that everyone has different needs when it comes to physical comfort.  Some students need to stand.  Others need to sit with pretzel legs on the floor.  Some kids need to move their bum on a wiggle seat or stability ball.

Our goal is always to get the most from our students.  We don't want them wasting precious learning time.  It just makes sense that we meet their physical needs as much as possible.  This is why alternative seating has become so prevalent.  Teachers are offering a choice so that students can pick how and where they learn best.

A few of my colleagues have already taken the plunge whole heartedly.  They have converted their classrooms from the traditional "everyone sit at a desk" setting to a kid friendly "chair optional" plan.
These pictures are from my colleague Nikki's first grade classroom.  I love her classroom because it's very inviting!  I want to be a student in her room!

She has provided options for standing, sitting on the floor, sitting on a ball or wiggle seat, and even rocking.

I like the way she has used the small Ikea rugs for sitting spots at the low tables.  The ends are tucked under the table legs to keep them more secure.

 There's a table for standing.  If I were a student, this is one place I would utilize for sure.  I like standing  when I have a project spread out on a table.  I get a bird's eye view of my work.  You can see that she still has some traditional spots at tables too.  Sometimes these work best for students.

I have not made the leap as Nikki has in her classroom, but I am planning to make some different seating options this year.  I will still have mostly traditional desks, but I will provide more choice.  I plan to have at least 2 desks that are raised so that students may stand if they choose.  I also plan to have a low table with rugs much like Nikki has.

I know that I will need to establish some guidelines for use.  I can see that the novelty of choice may be a bit distracting at first.  But like all new things, the fascination wears off.

I know I have the expertise of teachers like Nikki to help me with working out the kinks.  In the end, I think it is worth it.  My goal is always for my students to be INDEPENDENT!   I think offering seating choices is a way to allow them to make choices that will ultimately enrich the learning in the classroom.  If students are physically uncomfortable the learning shuts down.  I certainly want to maximize our instructional time.

I think it would be a great research project to gather data on how many times students are out of seats, going to the bathroom, or just off task when no seating alternatives are offered.  Then take some data again when students have choice.  I don't know the correct way to conduct such a research project, but I can certainly do it informally for my own information.

Do you offer alternative seating in your classroom?  If so, how's it going?  What tips can you share for making it work?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Moving Toward Independence

I just finished reading a book by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris called  Who's Doing the Work?  It very much validated what I have been trying to do but also helped me stretch my thinking.  I love it when that happens!  I feel very motivated and inspired.  I would highly recommend reading this book.

The book is causing me to really reflect on my teaching practices.  The gist of the book is that students are being conditioned to wait for teacher prompts, introductions, and/or confirmations before moving on and really reading.  I get it.  I definitely have seen students who seem so helpless without the teacher really prompting.  It makes me think about when teachers say, "Sally knows the strategies, she is just not using them."  In fact, I have said that many times!

The book helps teachers to plan instruction that will support readers but also help them become more independent.  It provides questions to ask yourself as the teacher.  It helps you think about how to use read alouds, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading.  It focuses on using the gradual release of instruction so that students learn to solve problems on their own.

When I fist started reading the book, I thought about the Common Core and how one of the shifts is that students need to learn to read a text closely.  We want them to be able to read a grade level text independently.  That is not a big deal for many students, but for others…WOW!  Am I really going to expect ALL students to do this.  Yes!  I do have the same standard or goal that I want them to be able to achieve. I just need to give them the tools or the "map" to get there.  I need to move them toward independence.

I am reminded of an incident that happened in my classroom a few years ago.  I was teaching a social studies lesson on the topic of transportation.  I usually use lots of trade books and magazines to teach concepts.  I decided that I wanted to utilize our social studies text book.  My thought was that my students were going to encounter these type of texts, and I wanted to see what they could do with it.  We had read and discussed a little of the passage together, but then I told them to read a certain part independently and be ready to share an important fact or idea.  I knew that I was asking something really difficult for a few of my students.

After a few minutes, I asked the students to share something that they read or thought was important in that part.  I purposefully called on "Danny" to see what he would say.  Danny was reading around a kindergarten or beginning first grade level.  This incident was late in the year in a second grade classroom.  (I was prepared to offer supports so that he would be successful in sharing).  Anyway, I fully expected Danny to say something off the mark or at best really superficial.  Instead, he explained how transportation had changed over the years due to advances in technology.  He didn't use those exact words, but he blew me away!

I realized that Danny had many strategies for tackling a complex text.  He didn't read every word, but he  was able to get the gist of the passage by zeroing in on key words.  He also knew how to use other text features like pictures, captions, sub headings.  He used a balance of print strategies and meaning strategies that really helped him comprehend.  And he did it by himself!

I felt bad that my expectations for Danny were too low.  I thought because he was only reading a level D or E that he would never be able to understand this grade level passage.  I was too focused on the level and not on what strategies Danny had learned to use.  He was much better equipped to read and understand that text than several other students who were reading "on grade level."

I am not advocating giving a student a steady diet of text that I think is too hard for them.  I certainly don't think that is helpful.  But I do think it is OK to let them try something outside of their Zone of Proximal Development.

I learned that I should not get too hung up on what level a child is reading.  I should, instead, be more concerned with what they do when reading.  I need to be a better observer.  I know that often I do DRA's or running records on students, but I don't take the time to really analyze what they are doing.  If I know that a student is relying too heavily on print strategies, I can teach them to use meaning strategies.  I want the student to be able to see what is going well and what he or she needs to work on. I want the student to know what strategy to try without me telling them.

In the end, I ask myself, "What am I doing to move my students toward independence?  Do my students know what to try and when to try it?  Are they comfortable making mistakes?"

I love thinking about this stuff!  What are your thought on teaching reading?  How do you help students become independent?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Learning Calendar

Several years ago I started The Learning Calendar with my students.  I was teaching first grade at the time.  I wanted to find a way to help my students reflect on the day's events as well as what they had learned.  Originally, my thought was that if we talked about what we learned at the end of the day, maybe they could remember it for at least a few hours.  When Mom or Dad asked, "What did you learn today?" the response MIGHT not be, "Nothin'."

We started by meeting at the end of the day to talk about these things.  We would sit on the carpet while I modeled for the students what I wanted them to do.  I would say things like, "Today we learned about visualizing when we read.  Visualizing is when you make a movie in your head.  It was Joey's birthday today.  We earned 2 character rocks today.  In math, we learned to skip count by 5's."  Then I would write these things on a calendar that was posted in our meeting area.

The calendar had a small writing space which made it really hard for students to do the writing.  I ended up always writing our day's entry.  I really wanted this to be a student led activity in the end, so I designed a much larger "calendar."  (I had the idea, but I didn't build it)

It is attached to the wall at a height for students to write on.  We have one student each week who is in charge of writing on The Learning Calendar.

Our calendar really is a large roll of paper.  It scrolls behind two small plastic pieces that hold it in place.  I made a template from poster-board that goes over top of the paper.  It has a place for the number of days we have been in school, the temperature and sometimes we have a drawing of the weather (like a sun), the date, who is recording the information, and what we learned.  It's a simple way to collect some data that we review later in the year.

The big white space is for writing what we have learned.  I have tried to teach the students to begin their entries with "Today we learned..."  or "We learned that..." because I really want the focus to be on the learning.  They usually include some other little notes too, but that 's fine with me.  It makes it more original and memorable when it comes from them.

We continue to write an entry a day for the entire year.  At the end of the year, we have a Celebration of Learning.  This is when we display the learning calendar.  It is really cool to see it all rolled out for the entire year.  I usually do this in our school's gym because it takes up so much space.

Students enjoy looking for things on the learning calendar that they remember throughout the year.  Sometimes they look for special days like field day or when an author came to visit.  Other times they look for their birthday or when a new student joined the class.  But it also reminds them that we have really learned a lot throughout the year.  They remember when we just started multiplication in math.  Now the students are great multipliers and can do this independently!  The students have such a sense of accomplishment when they review The Learning Calendar.

It's also great for parents to see.  They are often amazed at how much we accomplish in the year.  The Learning Calendar really helps document our growth and accomplishments.

Do you have an end of the day reflection piece?  What do you do?  I would love to hear some other ideas!


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Math Lesson Plan Pages

Yesterday I talked about how I set up my math instruction time.  I thought I would share the lesson plan pages that I use.  These are for second grade, so those are the standards that are written at the top of the pages.  I hope someone finds them useful!  

Lesson Plan Pages

Monday, June 13, 2016

Math Instruction

I've been thinking about my math instructional time.  For the most part, I think I have it set up in the most efficient way.  We have math for about an hour each day.

The first 30 minutes are devoted to a whole group lesson. We start out with some calendar math for a few minutes.  It's kind of a way to warm up and get our brains thinking about math.  It's also a way we integrate several skills in an ongoing way.  For example, we track the number of days we are in school and make that number in dollars and cents with magnetic money on our whiteboard.

After calendar math, we have a core lesson from our math program.  We currently use Math in Focus.  I use the Smartboard for this instruction.  Although there are student books, we just have the student book displayed on the Smartboard.  We also use interactive resources from the math program or ones we have found on our own.  This lesson usually lasts about 25-30 minutes.

Next, we work in small groups.  We only do one "rotation" each day.  In the picture below, you see four rotations.  Typically, I  meet with each group once during the week.  However, I have it arranged so that my group that needs the most support comes to the table twice during the week.  In the past, I have tried rotating groups during the hour but have found that I really don't have enough instructional time with each group.  As it is now, small group time lasts for about 30 minutes.  This is working well for me.

The groups are flexible and are based on observation, MAP test data,  and pre-test scores.  After I complete the pre-test for our math chapter, I decide how to arrange the groups.  There are usually 4-6 students in a group.  I typically have 4 groups. One group works with me at the table.  This is usually where I really target and differentiate my instruction.  I use lots of manipulatives during this part.  I can deliver instruction on the same topic to all students but really meet the needs of each group.  For example, I always have a group that already knows the standard for our grade level.  Our math program provides some great enrichment pieces that I like to use with this group.  I know they are being challenged and we have some great math conversations together!

Math Group Rotations

On the other end of the spectrum I have students who really struggle with the concept we are learning.  It's much easier to see where they are challenged when you only have a few students in front of you.  I can give them a math problem, observe, and intervene at the point of error.  I love hearing, "OOHH!  Now I get it!"

Besides a group of students working with me, I also have a groups of students working on their iPads.  (I used to have a computer group before we had iPads.)  These students have a few choices.  We use a program called ESpark that differentiates student instruction based on MAP test results.  In my class last year I had students working on kindergarten math skills and students working on fifth grade level math.
Students have the option to work on their ESpark assignments or use IXL or Tenmarks.  I'm pretty sure our district pays for the IXL, but Tenmarks is free.  I really like using both of these programs because it's so easy to differentiate with these as well.  For IXL, I have a small whiteboard in the room.  I can post what skills I want certain groups to work on.  In Tenmarks, students can work on a variety of assignments and there are great supports provided with this website.  They can click on a button to have the problem read aloud and also click to get extra help.

There are many other free options available for math. I know about Sumdog for one. Many teachers at my building utilize this as well.  I have used it on a limited basis.  I think it's good, I just already am used to using IXL and Tenmarks.

Cart of Games and Manipulatives

In addition to table time and iPads, another group is playing games.  I have a ton of math games that I have collected and organized.  I have a large file cabinet that is full of file folder games.  I organized them by concept and numbered them so that I can find them easily.  I have a master list in the front of the file cabinet.  If I want to find some games for time or money, I can look on the sheet and find which games cover those concepts.  It makes it much easier to see what I have and locate the games quickly.  I can also differentiate the games.  If I know that a certain group of students needs more practice on basic addition and subtraction facts, I provide this practice through games. I have tubs for each of my groups.  In the tubs, I place the games that I want them to play along with any manipulatives they may need to be successful.  This way I know they are getting practice on skills that they need.

You can find so many great math games on Teachers Pay Teachers.  It's amazing what is offered for free!  This is where I have gotten many of the games my students play.

The last group is completing paper/pencil activities.  I usually use the workbook pages from our math series.  These pages are easy to differentiate too because our math series provides extra practice, remediation, and enrichment pages. Because I need for these students to be able to work independently, I use the practice pages from the previous chapter.  Let's say that our current chapter is on multiplication of 3's and 4's.  The chapter that we completed before that was addition with regrouping.  I do not give the paper/pencil group practice pages from the multiplication chapter.  Instead I give them practice pages from the addition chapter.  The reason for this is that the previous chapter is one that they have already learned.  They should be able to complete these practice pages independently.  I don't want students to be interrupting the table because they need help with the paper.  The important thing to me is that I am providing some practice of math skills at a level on which they can be successful.  There can still be challenges within the activity, but they are ones that the students can work through independently.

The only group that I have to worry about being finished before our 30 minutes are up is the paper/pencil group.  The other groups can continue to play games, work on iPads, and work at the table  with me for the entire 30 minutes.  In order to make good use of our math time and not be interrupted, I have trained the paper/pencil group to read math books if they happen to finish the paper before the end of math time.  I have a bin of trade books on math concepts.  I have collected lots of great books that the students love to read.  Jerry Palotta and Marilyn Burns are 2 authors I can think of that write some great math related stories.  When students finish papers, they are allowed to get a math book and read it alone or with a partner.  This is another way I can tie in language arts skills during math instruction.

One of the things that I have been thinking about for this paper/pencil group is making it more collaborative.  I already allow students the choice of working independently on the paper/pencil or with others.  When they work with others, they can help each other in different ways.  Some students need help reading certain problems, but they are fine with the math part.  Other students need a "coach" to remind them of the resources they may use.

I am thinking about trying to give this group one or two problems on a topic that they work together to solve.  I want to give my students more opportunities to collaborate, talk, and learn from each other.  I would have to find or make problems that were challenging but not outside the group's ZPD.  Knowing that the group is comprised of students with a similar understanding of the concept, I would need to consider the strengths and challenges of each group carefully.  I know that within a group, I usually have someone who is stronger with computation.  Another student may be stronger with problem solving strategies.  Yet another student is great at locating and using resources to help them.  My hope is that the groups could work together to solve a problem.  One of the benefits of this collaborative group would be that the students would have the chance to hear more "math talk."  By talking and trying different approaches, the students could learn from each other.  Students would have an opportunity to explain their thinking about using a certain approach or about how they arrived at a certain answer.

"I Charts" for Math Stations

I know that getting students to work successfully in a collaborative group can be challenging.  The key is in the training.  With all of the other groups that I mentioned move, I have spent much time in training students.  Collaborative groups is not something I would introduce and have going in the first week of school.  I know that I will have to lay some foundation before trying this approach.  When I am ready to implement collaborative math groups, I will want to be extremely explicit in my expectations.  I will create "I charts" much like I do when introducing components of Daily 5.  I will model and practice with the class.  This is really something I would like to try.  I think I will put this on my "professional goals" list of things to do.

How do you provide differentiated math instruction?  What is going well?  What challenges do you face?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

End of the Year...

Another year has ended.  It always amazes me how quickly the time went.  I love the end of the school year for the obvious reasons, but I also love it because it is a time of renewal and growth for me.  I  have some personal goals ( which always include exercising more and losing weight!) and some professional goals.

This year, one of my professional goals is to learn to become a great storyteller.   My brother in law is a one of these people.  It's common knowledge that Mike can tell a great story, so what is it that makes it so great?  Here's what I think…

First of all, when I say a "story" I am really just talking about his everyday life.  He can make something mundane and ordinary sound hilarious and exciting.

He includes great details that make you think you were there.  When he describes something he uses his whole body to do it.  His voice changes to convey mood or thoughts.  He has different voices for characters.  He uses hand motions and facial expressions.  He includes his inner thoughts when he tells about an event.  He knows how to include the good stuff and leave out the boring stuff.  Or maybe it's that he makes the boring stuff sound like the good stuff.  Whatever it is, people are captivated by his retelling of events.

I see storytelling as the foundation for great writing.  Anything that is written was once spoken or at least thought about in words.  For my students, I know if they can't tell it, they can't write it.  This is why I want them to learn to TELL a great story first.

I usually start the year with some storytelling, but I feel that this is an area where improvement is needed.  I need to be a better model.  I need to use the gradual release of responsibility with storytelling.  I also need to give my students more opportunities to do it.

These are the questions I am asking myself:
Am I giving students enough time to talk and share thoughts and stories?
Am I modeling this process and including them in it?
Am I sustaining this practice throughout the year?

What are your thoughts and reflections about your year?  What goals do you have for the summer?